It was a clear, peaceful Christmas evening. We walked towards the ship’s dock, hearing children’s laughter tinkling in the background, and feeling full of the festive cheer which comes but once a year. As we reached the dock, excitement coursing through our veins, we saw it, rising up out of the water in front of us, like a beacon in the night sky
It only had one string of soddin’ lights on it!
My expectations of a ‘Carol ship cruise’ were high, I’ll admit it. I’d heard stories of the cruise ships travelling in beautiful twinkly convoy, covered from bow to stern in thousands of beautiful, colourful lights. The reality – on that cold, crisp Vancouver evening – looked remarkably more like a family yacht, half-heartedly decorated by the teenage kids as a treat. Who had then run out of money. As we waited to board, we examined the queue of people who were starting to arrive around us. It was safe to say that
even in duck years we were by far the youngest people in about a 1500 metre vicinity. The people were old, lost and confused…maybe they too were expecting more than one string of lights and a half-dead fibre-optic tree hanging, Titanic style, from the front; they thought they had happened upon the wrong ship. “Ho, ho my dear wife, this can’t possibly be OUR cruise…oh no! Ours, my darling, is going to be covered in lights, and we’ll be able to hear the angelic choirs singing even from the lowly shore. Oh no, this isn’t OUR cruise”. It was. And unfortunately, it was ours too.
On embarking the ship, with my boarding card printed out from the work printer,
not being required to show my passport that I had hopefully brought along, we walked into what can only be described as a Phoenix Nights style social club with a mirrored gold ceiling and table cloths. We were greeted in a friendly and excitable way by the hostess, who walked us across the tired, plaid carpet and showed us to our window seat. Excellent, we thought, what a great view we’ll have – until we realised…we couldn’t see anything out of the window due to all of the condensation – that had no qualms about dripping all over my face and right down my neck. This was going to be a long, damp night.
On the plus side, they served alcohol, so a stiff glass of red and a lighted tea-light candle later, we were feeling much cheerier about the whole debacle. We could smell the food, and could see people returning from the buffet with their plates heaped high, so we ate our fill of the
random combination Caesar salad, bean salad, bread rolls, tomato pasta, chicken in some sort of sauce, pilaf rice and beef. At this point, buoyed by our plentiful food and drink, and having wiped down the windows with my sleeves, we were looking forward to the delightful musical treat that would be the carols. We could hear it getting started…a crackle of electricity…some excitable mutterings, followed by………. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. Huge mic feedback, and what felt like an electric shock through my ear drum – all the water that had dripped in there probably didn’t help. Take two. An excitable introduction, and, like a vision, a woman emerges (with her dress tucked into her knickers) and begins to sing that most famous of traditional carols “Santa Claus is coming to town”, followed by more traditional classics including a tortured version of ‘All I want for Christmas is You” and a much too low “Merry Christmas Everyone”. All this was complemented by the truly awful CD backing track, and the tuneless singing of our peers on the neighbouring tables. We thought we had hit the lowest point, but we were wrong – it was still all ahead of us.
An introduction began playing on the CD player that sent shivers down my spine…the (slightly flat) electric piano intro of one of my most favourite true Christmas carols, O Holy Night. I looked out of the window at the beautifully illuminated Vancouver night skyline, marvelling at the reflection in the water of the real thousands of colourful lights and beauty. When I turned back to survey
my new friends the small boatful of old people, with gladness and merriment in my heart, I saw it. Two middle-aged couples were …. DANCING. Despite the small dancefloor, and the lack of follow-on participation from anyone else in the room, they went for it, gliding around the dancefloor like swans from Swan Lake, sliding and spinning to the poor-relation-cover of the Il Divo classic. And then it was over, just as quickly as it had begun, followed by ‘disco party time’ for the remaining 45 mins. It is the only Christmas experience I have ever witnessed where there has been such a seamless transition between Silent Night and ‘If You like It Then You Should Have Put A Ring On It’. It worked, in a strange way, and we all went home smiling.